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6 Major Roles Of Social Workers In The Treatment Of Addictions

What is the Role of Social Workers in the Treatment of Addictions?

Alcohol and drug addiction impact the quality of life for those afflicted. Their employment, relationship, and health are just a few areas affected. Social workers treat addiction as trained professionals equipped to control the chemical and behavioral dynamics linked to substance abuse. The role of social workers in the treatment of addictions is vital. A supportive individual to others facing so many challenges, social workers sometimes get overlooked in the midst of the chaos.

Social workers who have obtained a Master of Social Work degree and passed state Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) requirements can treat various conditions, including substance abuse. By practicing evidence-based interventions, social workers treat addiction by providing the foundation necessary for an efficient plan of action.

Though the road to recovery is complicated, here are some ways social workers treat addiction, helping their clients overcome substance abuse. In cases of intervention for a loved one, social workers are a great resource to lean on to help you navigate through what this process looks like.

The role of social workers in the treatment of addictions can also be referred to as a therapist, as therapists are professionally trained in the use of therapy. They can serve as a sounding board, as well as a refuge for professional advice and direction.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [1], the role of social workers in the treatment of addictions has seen substantial growth. In the last two decades addiction finally became a “specialty practice section” for National Association of Social Workers (NASW) members.

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The role of social workers in the treatment of addictions is to link the clients, the family, and the social service and clinic safety net.

History of Social Work

Social work in the United States, as a profession in general, began at the end of the 19th century. It was created out of a need to provide help to vulnerable individuals, including immigrants, access to resources, and to help them develop the skills to elevate themselves out of economic and social poverty.

The social worker has fought for civil rights equalities for all and has made great contributions towards employee rights. Social work was also instrumental in the creation of Medicaid and Medicare. Today, the role of social workers in the treatment of addictions is contributing to defeating the shame associated with substance abuse and mental illness.

The social work profession celebrated its centennial in 1998. And now, 100+ years after the profession was established, we have social workers engaging with those who struggle with mental health disorders and the disease of addiction. Because they have such a wide range of professional training, the roles of social workers in the treatment of addictions can help clients facing complicated obstacles.

Social work pioneer Jane Adams was one of the first women to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded in 1931. Known best for establishing settlement houses in Chicago for immigrants in the early 1900s, Addams was a dedicated community organizer and peace activist.

6 Fundamental Role of Social Workers in the Treatment of Addictions

Alcohol and drug addiction is a growing problem around the world. In 2010, an estimated 22.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were abusing illicit drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) [2]. Substance abuse can be one of the most difficult problems to recognize, as clients are often secretive or ashamed about their drug use.

As a social worker, it’s crucial to be conscious of the potential for substance abuse in any client who seeks help. For example, a person may seek help for mental health conditions such as depression, and anxiety but hide underlying alcohol or drug addiction. The role of the social worker in the treatment of addictions is to tease out these possible underlying issues and help the person get proper help and support in whatever way necessary.

1. Identification and Assessment

Social workers are taught and trained on how to assess and identify the needs of their clients beyond the scope of their initial presenting problem. One of the first duties of a social worker in a hospital, school, mental health clinic, or private practice is to perform a thorough assessment on a client, taking into account possible drug and alcohol abuse issues, even if the client does not self-report the issue. The role of social workers in the treatment of addictions is to assess substance abuse problems in both voluntary, or self-referred, and involuntary, or mandated.

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), you will work with your clients to “complete a comprehensive assessment toward the development of a service plan for recommended placement into an appropriate treatment program.” You may not be asked to provide direct care, but you are required to identify the warning signs and recommend a program of treatment to the client during or directly after the assessment.

2. Direct Treatment

Social workers can also be referred to and serve as a therapist, as therapists are professionally trained in the use of therapy. They can serve as a sounding board, as well as a haven for professional advice and direction. Also, social workers act as addiction counselors in diverse settings, including drug treatment facilities, mental health clinics, and hospitals. Although all graduate social work programs include substance abuse education, many social workers decide to continue their studies to obtain a certification in alcohol and drug abuse counseling, especially if they wish to work specifically in this field.

3. Education

Social workers may work as an alcohol and drug abuse teachers in a variety of settings, such as schools, shelters, and community outreach centers. For instance, a social worker may be expected to give a presentation on alcohol and drug addiction prevention at a school if a social worker works in a community organization that provides this service.

4. Maintenance

After meeting with clients during the intake phase and forming a treatment plan, social workers next help create a structure to sustain treatment plans. Clients usually attend weekly counseling sessions with a social worker. They may also be involved in group therapy in addition to individual counseling sessions.

Counselling aims to help clients improve coping skills, including stress management, self-reflection, and conflict resolution. The social worker’s check-ins during regular sessions comprise a non-judgmental way for clients to begin orientating themselves to the process of checking-in, maintaining positive growth, and initiating and fostering introspection.

5. Connecting Clients to Resources

Social workers also work within many systems and help as contacts to connect clients with resources. Clients in poverty, who need help meeting basic needs, may be referred to homeless shelters, food banks, or human services programs.

Social workers may also work alongside law enforcement and court officials to aid those experiencing prostitution, domestic abuse, and exploitation. To help those with criminal records find employment, social worker addiction specialists refer clients to employers who hire people with a history of addiction. Social workers can serve as references for their clients, and attest to work skills helping them succeed in their job search.

6. Research

Social workers also frequently engage in academic research on the university level. So, a social worker may choose to participate in alcohol and drug addiction prevention research, such as helping with the growth of empirically validated treatment and intervention approaches. According to the Social Work Policy Institute, social work researchers have conducted substance abuse research in recent years with support from a variety of governmental agencies, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Find the Right Treatment Plan at We Level Up NJ

If you are struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, mental health disorder, or both, you can reach out for help. You are never alone. At We Level Up Florida, you will have a team of professionals to help you towards a new level of recovery. In honor and support of the role of social workers in the treatment of addictions everywhere, we appreciate you!


[1] NCBI –

[2] SAMHSA –

[3] Role of Social Workers in the Treatment of AddictionsWe Level Up